Nimesh Patel, a comedian and former writer for Saturday Night Live,* was yanked from the stage in the midst of his routine at Columbia University on Friday after students decided his material was homophobic, racist, and making them feel unsafe.
Columbia's Asian American Alliance (AAA) had invited Patel to perform during the group's annual charity event, "Cultureshock: Reclaim," a title that sounds a little too exciting and provocative, honestly, given the students' apparent need for maximum security and comfort.
AAA is run by students, which means it was their decision to pull Patel from the stage after he made jokes that they deemed racist and homophobic, according to The Columbia Daily Spectator. I emailed AAA to ask what exactly Patel said that was so offensive; the group sent me a statement that did not clarify matters.
The Spectator, though, lists one of the allegedly inappropriate jokes:
During the event, Patel's performance featured commentary on his experience living in a diverse area of New York City—including a joke about a gay, black man in his neighborhood—which AAA officials deemed inappropriate. Patel joked that being gay cannot be a choice because "no one looks in the mirror and thinks, 'this black thing is too easy, let me just add another thing to it.'"
The joke acknowledges that black people and gay people suffer oppression, and that a person who is both gay and black suffers "stacked" oppression. This joke seems almost perfectly "intersectional."
Intersectionality, the operarting system of the modern left, requires everyone to recognize that different forms of oppression are interrelated, and that they stack. The problem for Patel, however, is that intersectionality also recognizes the oppressed as the sole experts on their own oppression. Thus Patel should not have commented on matters relating to black people or gay people, since he is neither gay nor black.
"if you're Black and gay, you don't need a straight South Asian guy to point out that your life is hard because you're Black and gay," wrote a student, Liberty Martin, in an op-ed. Martin accused Patel of "blatant anti-blackness," with reference to the above joke, specifically. Even though the joke reflects a sentiment that gay and black students want everyone to recognize as reality—that life as a gay, black student is hard—the fact that it was made by an Asian guy means it's actually evidence of anti-black bias. (It doesn't have to make sense, you just have to obey.)
Perhaps Patel went on to say actually insensitive things—why the easily offended would attend any comedy show, ever, is fodder for another discussion—but if this joke is representative of his set, the outrage looks that much more ridiculous.
Patel made it 30 minutes before organizers cut off the routine. According to The Spectator:
Patel pushed back on the officials' remarks, and said that while he stood in solidarity with Asian American identities, none of his remarks were offensive, and he was exposing the audience to ideas that would be found "in the real world." Before he could finish, Patel's microphone was cut from off-stage, and he proceeded to leave.
AAA released a statement on Facebook condemning Patel's remarks, which "ran counter to the inclusive spirit and integrity of CultureSHOCK." They apologized for inviting Patel, and for "the hurt his words caused members of the community."
Many students in the audience agreed with AAA's decision to end the event prematurely. One told the student newspaper that Patel's jokes "contradicted the sensitive nature of the event." Another had this to say:
"I really dislike when people who are older say that our generation needs to be exposed to the real world. Obviously the world is not a safe space but just accepting that it's not and continuing to perpetuate the un-safeness of it… is saying that it can't be changed," said Jao. "When older generations say you need to stop being so sensitive, it's like undermining what our generation is trying to do in accepting others and making it safer."
When things like this happen, it's hard to deny that some college campuses have a student fragility problem.
*Update: A spokesperson for NBC reached out to clarify that Patel is no longer a writer for SNL. He left the show after last season.
Photo Credit: Screenshot via NBC